Curtis Charles Flood was a centerfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1959 to 1969 who won seven Gold Gloves. He batted over .300 six times, led the league in hits in 1964 with 211 and played all seven games in three World Series, 1964, 1967 and 1968. For all his steady production during a great decade of Cardinal baseball, Curt Flood’s greatest contribution to the game came off the field.
After the 1969 season the Cardinals traded the 31-year old Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies in a package deal that had Tim McCarver, Byron Browne and Joe Hoerner going with Flood to Philadelphia for Richie Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson. Flood refused to report to the Phillies, citing numerous reasons, including the team’s poor record (63-99), a poor facility in Connie Mack Stadium and what Flood believed were racist fans. (He wasn’t the only one who thought that at the time).
At the time of the trade, major league baseball’s owners enjoyed the Reserve Clause, a clause in every player’s contract which stated that, upon the contract’s expiration, the rights to the player were to be retained by the team to which he had been signed. Once a player’s contract was up, he was still, essentially, the property of that club, a far cry from the situation that players enjoy today.
The player was bound to either a) negotiate a new contract to play another year for the same team or b) ask to be released or traded (to wherever the team wanted).
Flood consulted with Marvin Miller, the head of the players’ union (pictured with Flood in the AP photo above) and with the union agreeing to pay for Flood’s legal costs, Flood challenged the Reserve Clause. On December 24, 1969 Flood sent a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn that stated:
After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States. It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.
When Kuhn denied Flood’s request for free agency, Flood filed a $1 million law suit against Kuhn and Major League Baseball. Flood alleged that Federal anti-trust laws had been violated. Jackie Robinson testified on behalf of Flood as did Hank Greenberg and Bill Veeck. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Major League Baseball, by a 5-3 vote, won the case which lasted into 1972. Flood had missed the 1970 season after which he was traded to the Washington Senators where he played in just 13 games
Flood vs. Kuhn established the Reserve Clause as a legitimate cause for negotiating in collective bargaining and it also established that the antitrust exemption was valid only in baseball and not any other sport. With that, the players association set its sights on getting the Reserve Clause removed from player contracts. In 1975 the Reserve Clause was finally broken down after Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally had played for one year without contracts. (McNally was actually injured that year and ultimately retired but he joined Messersmith in the case at the urging of Miller.) Messersmith became a free agent and signed a 3-year, $1 million contract with the Braves.
And the FLOOD-gates were open.